About a month ago I stepped on a scale and saw I was losing weight while simply trying to modify my relationship with food and I thought, Damn. I wish I had taken a BEFORE picture.
I was meditating on this on my drive to my Mom’s house tonight and just thinking about “Before” and “After” photos in general and I started kinda digging into my instinctive programming, something I’ve been trying to do a lot in regard to my body image. I started thinking about what I’m saying with a “Before/After” comparison that celebrates the “After” part of the photo. And what I’m saying is: AFTER IS BETTER and so am I therefore saying that BEFORE IS BAD?
I’ve taken dozens, if not HUNDREDS of “Before” photos over the decade since I had Wesley. So, you know what I did? I dug some of them out. Yep. I did. Here is a (completely embarrassing) mosaic of “Before” photos over the last 10 years, all with the eventual goal to do a comparison with an “After” photo. They are not in any particular order because my weight has bounced around the last 10 years so who the hell knows what I weighed when.
Those were all photos to show the BEFORE because I was striving for something BETTER. And look, I succeeded a few times because I found these comparison photos:
But…here’s the thing. I’m starting to question this way to measure progress for my own mental health. For someone like me who is trying to counter-program so many deeply entrenched and unrealistic beauty standards, I think this is doing more harm than good. I don’t want to look at photos of myself as “Before” in some sort of effort to try to become better because then the natural message I’m telling myself is that “Before” is WORSE and therefore inherently BAD. And this is exactly the mindset that has created in me a terrible emotional dependency on food over the last decade.
I’m not saying everyone should stop doing Before/After photos to document physical transformation. I’m saying that Zoot needs to stop doing them. They are not good for my mental health because they keep reinforcing some sort of bizarre, Better/Worse scenario that has given me the twisted and distorted body image that I have today.
I spent some time looking at that mosaic and apologizing to the Zoot in those photos. (I especially apologized to the girl in the bikini, WHY DID SHE NEVER WEAR THAT IN PUBLIC? SHE LOOKS AMAZING!) I told her I was sorry that I looked at that body and thought it needed “improving” upon. I’m sorry I didn’t smile more and celebrate whatever wonderful things that body was doing. I’m sorry I was measuring progress in size and shape instead of health. Because now that I’m trying to break apart this bad programming, I’m realizing what is finally changing – what I’ve needed to change for 10 years – is my relationship with food. And that is not measured in Before/After photos.
Well, not unless the “Before” photo is one of me being depressed and hiding in my car and binging on a Zaxby’s chicken tender platter before driving to McDonalds for a McFlurry only to detour by the park on the way home to throw away all of the evidence so no one every knew about the gluttonous meal. That would be the “Before” photo that would truly show what needed changing. Who cares what the body looked like of the girl who ate all of her feelings, it’s the terrible relationship with food that’s the problem, not the body.
And then the “After” photo to celebrate the important transformation would show a girl who was wanting something yummy and sweet and instead of obsessing over whether it would fit into her daily calorie limit, she just found something small and reasonable to enjoy and never even looked at the nutrition label. And then she ate a healthy dinner of vegetable ravioli and stopped eating when she was full.
That is the Before/After transformation I need to focus on.
So, to the Zoot of the last decade who I photographed at “heavy” points in an attempt to show eventual weight loss, YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL. Quit taking photos of yourself frowning in the mirror and instead smile at a body of wonder and resilience and love and empathy and everything important.
This one was a celebratory photo I took after a run a few weeks ago. This is neither a “Before” or an “After” photo. This is just a photo of a girl who is happy and healthy and not binge-eating in the dark when she’s upset anymore.